On January 20th, the Chicago Bears added their second big-time coaching addition of the off-season with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. During his four years with the San Francisco 49ers, his units ranked 10th or better in yards and points allowed each year.
In Fangio’s first three years with the 49ers, his defense was the only of its kind to finish in the top five in points allowed (16.1 points per game), run defense (89 yards per game), average yard per carry (3.7), third-down conversion rate (34 percent), takeaways (93), opponent quarterback rating (76), yards allowed (307 yards per game) and first-downs allowed (835).
The soon to be 57-year-old is heading into his 29th year as an NFL coach and his 16th as an NFL coordinator.
Going back to his years coaching high school from 1979 to 1981, Fangio has never been a head coach. In the NFL he has spent time with the New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens, in addition to his recent stint with the 49ers. For those teams he has played the role of special assistant, linebackers coach or defensive coordinator.
What is the importance of his coaching history? It’s simple. He has no prior head-coaching experience, even at the high school level.
Prior to his days in the Bay Area, Fangio’s defensive units were close to league average, but it seems as if he has finally cracked the code to cementing his status as a top coordinator.
Does the NFL view Fangio as head-coaching material?
Over the past three seasons, there have been a total of 22 head-coaching hires.
Of those hires, 10 of those 22 (45 percent) have come from candidates with defensive backgrounds and nine of those hires have come over the last two seasons. Familiar names such as Dan Quinn of the Seattle Seahawks, Todd Bowles of the Arizona Cardinals and Jim Tomsula of those same 49ers were all hired as head coaches in 2015. Yet Fangio received a measly single interview from his former team before they hired his defensive line coach just weeks later.
Of the 22 hires since 2013, 14 (64 percent) had no prior experience as an NFL head coach.
Fangio has an established track record as a defensive coach and an excellent reputation as a respected leader, yet he’s had just a single head-coaching interview in his 28 NFL years. Why is that? Let’s take a look.
Examining prior top choices
Looking at 2015 alone, Quinn and Bowles seem to unlock some of those answers.
At 44 years old, Quinn has become one of the league’s youngest head coaches. He spent the past two seasons leading one of the more historic defensive units in NFL history. Before his second stint with the Seahawks, he bounced around with the 49ers (2001-2004), Miami Dolphins (2005-2006) and New York Jets (2007-2008). In that eight-year stretch, Quinn did not see any time as a defensive coordinator, yet after two years of leading an historical unit, he is now an NFL head coach.
Within the same division, Bowles flew under the radar while in his second year as Bruce Arian’s defensive coordinator. In 2014, Bowles’ unit ranked 24th in yards and fifth in points. The previous year, they ranked sixth in yards and seventh in points. The 51-year-old spent nine years in the league as a player and is going into his 15th NFL season as a coach.
Similar to Quinn, the newly appointed New York Jets coach had no previous full-time defensive coordinator experience before his time with the Cardinals. Both are young, up-and-coming coaches in the league, something Fangio is not.
Failed top coordinators turned head coaches
Over the years, there have been multiple top-notch coordinators that have failed as head coaches. To keep the list short, let’s examine three coordinators that are still in the league.
Ron Jaworski said it best when describing Lebeau: “Dick LeBeau is arguably the best ever to coach defense. He has done it on such a consistent basis over a long period of time.”
The 77-year-old spent 14 years as a player (1959-1972) and wasted little time jumping headfirst into his coaching career the following year. LeBeau is going into his 42nd year as a coach. Within that time, he spent a brief three years as the Cincinnati Bengals head coach, earning a 12-33 record. He was let go following his third year.
At just 39-years-old, McDaniels has been an NFL coach since 2001 and spent all but three years with the New England Patriots. In his early time with the Patriots he was an assistant, quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator before landing his first and only head-coaching gig with the Denver Broncos.
His first crack as offensive coordinator in New England was impressive. His 2007 offense set multiple records, including 75 offensive touchdowns and 589 points. The following year, he took a Matt-Cassel-led unit to an 11-5 record before accepting the Broncos job.
In just 28 short games as head coach of the Broncos, McDaniels lacked leadership, which led to an 11-17 record and an abrupt two-year failed coaching experience.
Since coming back to the Patriots, McDaniels has been to the playoffs each of those years and played a large part in their most recent Super Bowl victory.
Does anyone remember that 0-16 Detroit Lions team back in 2008? “Hot Rod” was the head coach of that historically bad team.
With a 10-38 record as a head coach and presiding over the only 0-16 club in NFL history, Marinelli may top the list of worst all-time head coaches.
Flip the switch and look at his product as a defensive-minded coach and he has truly been one of the best.
He was instrumental in the development of Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ players such as Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice, Marinelli’s work as defensive line coach netted his unit more sacks than any other team between 1996-2001.
He spent the next four years (2009-2012) with the Chicago Bears as a defensive line coach, assistant head coach and defensive coordinator. During his time as coordinator in Chicago, his units ranked 9th, 17th, and 5th overall, while leading the league in turnovers in that timeframe.
After inheriting the worst defensive unit in the NFL from 2013, Marinelli turned the Dallas Cowboys around last year. In 2014, his defense ranked 14th overall and helped the Cowboys reach a 12-4 record, including a playoff win.
The league does not view Fangio as a viable head-coaching candidate, for reasons we may never understand. So for those who believe he's a one-year rental that will take a top job next year, think again. If he were a true head-coach candidate, it would have happened already.
More likely, Fangio will stay in Chicago for years to come, helping rebuild a once-proud defense into an again-dominant unit.
Aaron Leming has years of salary cap knowledge and has written for Rant Sports, Bears Draft On Tap, and Cover 32. He is a regular contributor to Bear Report.